Archive for November, 2009

Cranberry Heaven

Sunday, November 29th, 2009


My family and I celebrated Thanksgiving this year at my mother’s home in New Jersey. We hosted a small party on Friday that concentrated on appetizers and desserts.
We served a very small main course (stuffed shells and salad), surrounded by delectable non-“serious” foods. We began the evening with shrimp, bruschetta, lots and lots of cheeses, hummus, my chipotle cranberry sauce, and nibbly nutty snacks.
Later I unveiled my favorite new creation: tiny cranberry cream puffs.
I was inspired to make them by reading about the annual Cranberry Festival in Warrens, Wisconsin.
Warrens doesn’t havea large population. About as many people live there, in fact, as in my tiny hometown of Hawley, Massachusetts (just under 400).
Each September, however, more than 100,000 people visit Warrens for a weekend-long tribute to the town’s signature crop, cranberries.
The festival features marsh tours, sales, a parade, a variety of contests, and of course lots and lots of foods made with cranberries.
Festival manager Kim Billiard sent me The Best of Cranfest. This cookbook offers recipes for cakes, salads, sauces, muffins, and meat dishes (to name a few) using fresh or processed cranberries. I plan to make and post one of these in the near future.
Kim admitted, however, that she didn’t have the recipe for the special cranberry confection I had read about online—the cranberry cream puffs sold each year by the local Sweet Adelines. She put me in touch with Mary Castner of the Sweet Adelines. I asked Mary how she made these treats.
“There really isn’t a recipe,” Mary told me. “All we do is we whip a quart of cream. And after it’s whipped we take jellied cranberries, and we mush them up. And we just swirl about a half a cup of them into the cream.”
She added that the group adds sugar and vanilla to the cream as well and explained that the Adelines put the filling into commercial frozen puffs to ensure uniformity.
“We sell a lot of them,” she asserted.
I decided to make my own cream puffs instead of buying frozen ones (I scoff at uniformity!) and found a simple recipe at the King Arthur Flour web site.
My nine-year-old nephew Michael helped me put them together. He worried a little about his ability to shape the puffs. “I’m not good with spoons,” he declared.
Michael really loved the idea of eating cranberry cream puffs, however, so he conquered his spoon phobia.
Michael stirs the puffs.

Michael stirs the puffs.

I was pretty sure I wanted a higher cranberry/cream ratio than 1/2 cup to 1 quart. So I upped the cranberry ante in our cream puffs.
The resulting puffs were, in Michael’s words, “just about perfect.”
The filling isn’t super stable so guests were encouraged to assemble their own puffs. Some chose a classic cream puff and hid a small amount of filling inside their puffs. Some slathered on the filling so you could see it a mile away.
My friend Wendy told me they were the highlight of her Thanksgiving weekend.
I urge you all to try them this holiday season. They’re easy. They’re festive (SO PINK!). And they’re sheer heaven to eat.


I also urge you to vote for them  in the Bon Appétit Holiday Dessert Bake-Off. Bon Appétit magazine is collecting holiday recipes from bloggers all over the United States and asking readers to vote for them.
I know my chances of winning are slight; the contest began on November 1, and I’ve only just discovered it. It never hurts to try, however!
Here’s the link for voting (you have to register in order to vote, but you DO NOT have to subscribe to the magazine). I’m listed in the final category, “miscellaneous desserts.”
Voting ends December 13.
Thank you! Now, here’s the recipe, It looks long, but it’s really a cinch……..
Cranberry Cream Puffs
for the jellied cranberries:
1 cup water
1 cup sugar
12 ounces cranberries
for the cream puffs:
1 cup water
1/2 cup (1 stick) sweet butter
1-1/4 cups flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
4 large eggs at room temperature (place them in warm water for a few minutes to achieve the right temperature)
for the filling:
2 cups heavy cream
confectioner’s sugar and vanilla to taste (we used about 1/4 cup sugar—maybe a little more–and 2 teaspoons vanilla)
1 recipe jellied cranberries
for assembly:
a small amount of confectioner’s sugar (optional)
for the jellied cranberries:
Make the jellied cranberries early—ideally the day before—so they will have plenty of time to cool and jell.
Yes, of course, you MAY use canned jellied cranberry sauce. It won’t taste as good as the fresh version, however; the canning process and the high-fructose corn syrup in most cans diminish the flavor. Making the stuff is pretty darned easy so I would keep the can opener in a drawer while preparing this recipe.
In a medium saucepan combine the water and sugar and bring them to a boil. Add the cranberries, and return the mixture to a boil. Reduce the heat, and boil the sauce for 10 more minutes. (If it gets too fuzzy, add a tiny bit of butter.)
Remove the sauce from the heat, and push it through a stainless-steel strainer. You’ll end up with about 1-1/2 cups of sauce and a small amount of solid matter; you may discard the latter.
Cool the sauce, covered, at room temperature; then refrigerate it until you are ready to assemble your cream puffs.
for the puffs:
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Lightly grease two cookie sheets or line them with silicone. (King Arthur Flour suggests using parchment sheets, but mine singed a bit in the hot oven.)
In a medium saucepan bring the water, butter, and salt to a rolling boil. Throw in the flour all at once. Using a wooden spoon stir it in quickly until it becomes smooth and follows the spoon around the pan. Remove the pan from the heat.
Let it rest until it is cool enough so that you can stick your finger in and hold it there for a few seconds (this takes about 5 minutes).
Place the dough in a mixer bowl, and beat in the eggs, one at a time, beating vigorously after each egg. Make sure you continue beating for 1 minute after the last egg goes in. The dough will be stiff.
Drop teaspoonsful of dough onto the cookie sheets, leaving enough space between them so the puffs can expand to golf-ball size in the oven.
Bake the puffs until they puff and begin to turn a light golden brown. (King Arthur Flour estimated this at 20 minutes; my oven is a little hot so it took only 15 for me.)
Remove them from the oven and quickly use a sharp knife to cut a small slit in the side of each puff. (This keeps the puffs from getting soggy.) Return them to the oven for 5 more minutes.
Remove the puffs from the oven and cool them on wire racks. If your oven is hot like mine and you have burned the bottoms slightly, use a sharp knife to remove the blackened portions.
for the filling:
Just before you are ready to assemble your puffs, whip the cream until it is thick and forms nice peaks, adding the sugar and vanilla toward the end of this process.
Use a mixer or whisk to break up the jellied cranberry sauce into a thick liquid (instead of a solid). Gently fold it into the whipped cream.
for assembly:
Carefully cut open each puff in the middle; you will find that the puffs have what King Arthur Flour calls a “natural fault line.”
Decorate the bottom of each puff with the cranberry-cream mixture and replace the top. Sprinkle a little confectioner’s sugar on top if desired.
Makes about 40 cream puffs.
Mother Jan was queen of the cream-puff party.

Mother Jan was queen of the cream-puff party.


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Cream Puffs on Foodista

Thanksgiving Report: Cranberry Apple Crumb Pie

Friday, November 27th, 2009
Aunt Lura (in seasonal headband) poses with the cranberry apple pie.

Aunt Lura (in seasonal headband) poses with the cranberry apple pie.

Like most Americans, my family can’t imagine Thanksgiving without pie. My Aunt Lura volunteered to bring a pumpkin creation to our table Thursday so our side of the family only had to make two pies.
(Of course, we didn’t actually have to make even two since we were feeding only eight people, but what is Thanksgiving without excess?)
We knew my honorary cousin Eric was coming so we baked our favorite key-lime pie. Eric is the nephew of my late wonderful semi-godmother Dagny Johnson, who lived on Key Largo, so we HAD to celebrate the Florida Keys.
(You can read more about Dagny and get the key-lime pie recipe in this post from April.)
We also wanted to celebrate our local bounty so we made another pie with two fruits native to both my home state, Massachusetts, and mother’s home state, New Jersey—apples and cranberries.
I had the not very bright idea of making the pie crust with apple cider instead of water to enhance the apple flavor. It DID help the flavor. It also made the crust much harder to manage! So I don’t suggest it. Just use your standard pie crust.
In fact, I’m thinking another time I might eschew the pie crust altogether and call the dish Cranberry Apple Crumble. (If I do, I’ll let you know how it turns out.)
Aside from the sticky crust, everything about this pie proved a success—the apple-cranberry ratio, the rich crumb topping, the contrasting textures. My family highly recommends it.
The Pie
3/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 pinch salt
1 tablespoon flour plus 1/2 cup later
3 medium apples, peeled, cored, and sliced
2 cups cranberries
1 9-inch pie crust
1/2 cup oatmeal (regular, not quick)
1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1/2 cup (1 stick) sweet butter (you could probably get by with less, but THIS WAS THANKSGIVING FOR GOODNESS’ SAKE!)
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. In a medium bowl combine the sugar, cinnamon, salt, and tablespoon of flour. Add the fruit and toss to combine. Pour this mixture into your pie shell.
In another bowl combine the remaining flour, the oatmeal, and the brown sugar. Cut in the butter. Pour this crumbly topping over your pie.
Bake the pie for 10 minutes; then reduce the oven temperature to 350 and continue baking for 30 more minutes. Serves 8.

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Cranberry Corner

Wednesday, November 25th, 2009


As I type this Tuesday evening I am surrounded by red. I’ve been playing with cranberries today. I can’t resist their deep, rich color and their sweet/tart flavor.
I tried making cranberry vinegar (NOT a success–I’ll try again next Thanksgiving).
I made jellied cranberry sauce for the cranberry cream puffs my family plans to serve at a party on Friday (recipe to follow).
And I made gorgeous, delectable cranberry chipotle sauce.
I’m not serving it with the turkey on Thanksgiving; my family would rebel! (I will try it with meat or poultry one of these days, however.) 
Instead, it’s scheduled to accompany crackers and soft cheese as an appetizer for Friday’s party.
Naturally, my family had to try it this evening. After all, we wouldn’t want to serve something to guests that didn’t pass our own test.  And to tell you the truth, I tried making it last year with limited success. I diluted the basic cranberry and chipotle flavors with too much onion and garlic.
A cook shouldn’t mess with her cranberries! 
Now that I have learned that lesson, here is the simple recipe. You don’t have to make this sauce for Thanksgiving–but it might inspire you to host your own party this weekend (or just sit at home and eat it with leftover turkey).
Have a wonderful day……….


Cranberry Chipotle Sauce



1 cup water
1 cup sugar
1 12-ounce bag cranberries
2 chipotles in adobo (out of a can), finely chopped, plus about 1 teaspoon adobo sauce from the can
In a nonreactive saucepan combine the water and sugar over medium heat, stirring constantly until the sugar dissolves. Bring the mixture to a boil.
When the sugar water is boiling stir in the chopped chipotles, sauce, and cranberries.
Return the mixture to a boil, reduce the heat, and simmer for 10 minutes (stir occasionally).
Pour the sauce into a bowl, cover it, and let it cool to room temperature. Refrigerate until ready to use.
Makes about 2 cups.
(I told you it was easy!)


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Pumpkin Pie Plus

Monday, November 23rd, 2009

pumpkin pie plus web

As a child I was the only member of my family who didn’t gravitate toward pumpkin pie on Thanksgiving. The custard filling was just … so … smooth.
As a grown up I am more enthusiastic, although the consistency still tends to flummox me. The recipe below solves the consistency issue by addiing other textures to the custard’s custardiness.
The flavors it adds don’t hurt, either!
The pie looks appropriately festive in my pumpkin-shaped pan from Wilton, but you may of course use a standard pie pan. Here’s the recipe………..
1-1/2 cups pumpkin or winter squash puree
1/2 cup white sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar, firmly packed
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ginger or allspice (or a bit of each)
1 cup evaporated milk
1/2 cup water
2 eggs
2/3 cup caramels
3 tablespoons cream
1 handful toasted pecans
1 handful toasted coconut
1 9-inch pie shell
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Whisk together the pumpkin, sugars, spices, milk, water, and eggs. Place the combination in the unbaked pie shell. Bake for 10 minutes; then reduce the heat to 350 degrees and bake for another 30 to 40 minutes, or until firm. Allow the pie to cool for a few minutes.
In a small saucepan combine the caramels and cream. Cook over low heat, stirring constantly, until they melt together.
Drizzle the caramel mixture over the pie, and top with the pecans and coconut. (If you’d rather save some caramel to drizzle over the top, please do so!)
Serves 6 to 8.
I’ll have more recipes later in the week, but since many of my readers are shopping for Thanksgiving NOW (yes, I know, some of you have even finished; I of course have yet to start!), here are a couple of recipes from last fall to get you going:
Happy baking……..

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Pie in the Sky

Friday, November 20th, 2009


You will eat bye and bye
In that glorious land above the sky.
Work and pray, live on hay,
You’ll get pie in the sky when you die.
                      —  Joe Hill, “The Preacher and the Slave”
With Thanksgiving just around the corner, I’m ready to devote a few words to pie. Turkey is the center of the traditional Thanksgiving dinner. Cranberries are the jewels that adorn the table. But pie is the not-to-be-missed culmination of this late November feast. It arrives with fanfare and seldom disappoints eaters.
Why pie? Like Thanksgiving itself it’s old fashioned. And (again like Thanksgiving itself) it represents a fair amount of work. Most of us don’t roll out pie crust every day so when we do it’s an event. At their best Thanksgiving pies are a family effort, made with love and many hands.
Pie is also ideal fare for this time of year when skies darken and breezes blow. It fills us, warms us, and comforts us as November chills our bones.
So—my next couple of posts will be pre-Thanksgiving pie recipes. The first one actually isn’t precisely for Thanksgiving proper since it’s a main-dish pie made with ham. (I’m always willing to stray from turkey, but I find that my family simply won’t consider any other main dish.)
It would be great for Thanksgiving Eve, however, or for one of those days after Thanksgiving when you just can’t look at a piece of turkey any longer, let alone consider eating it.
This ham pie is adapted from one created by Lucinda Finck of Heath, Massachusetts. I found it in The Heath Fair Cookbook, a staple of my cookbook shelf. If you don’t have fresh herbs to include, you may do without them or use a smaller quantity of dried herbs. The fresh ones really do taste wonderful in the pie, however.
Herbed Ham Pie
for the filling:
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) sweet butter
1/4 cup flour
1/2 teaspoon salt (omit if your ham is very salty)
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
several shakes of the pepper grinder
1 small onion, finely minced
2 cups milk
2 hard-boiled eggs, chopped
2-1/2 cups diced ham
1 cup cooked peas
1/2 cup cooked carrots
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
for the crust:
1 cup flour
1/2 cup grated cheddar cheese
1/4 teaspoon salt
a handful of parsley, minced
1/4 cup cold butter
2 to 3 tablespoons cold water
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.
First prepare the filling: melt the butter. Blend in the flour, salt, mustard, and pepper. Add the onions and milk. Cook until thick.
Stir in the ham, egg pieces, vegetables, and thyme. Pour the filling into a 2-quart casserole dish.
Next, make the pastry: in a bowl combine the flour, cheese, salt, and parsley. Cut in the butter. Add the water until it forms a ball, and gently roll it out on a lightly floured board until it is large enough to cover the casserole dish. Place it on top.
Bake the pie for 20 to 30 minutes, until most of the crust is golden brown and the filling bubbles. Serves 4 to 6.

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Ham and Cheese Pie on Foodista